Beyond the Lockdown: Assessing the Ripple Effects of COVID-19 on Education in Senegal

When Senegal closed schools for nearly seven months because of COVID, it disrupted education for over 3.5 million learners. In our multi-phase study, we fill the gaps in understanding the impacts of these closures on students and the education sector broadly. In the first part of the study, we described the immediate impacts of school closures on children’s access to education in Senegal using data from our first round of surveys of 1,000 households in 2021. Nearly two years on, through a follow-up survey of 982 households and 119 schools, we investigate the longer-term consequences of the pandemic on Senegal’s education system.

Dropout rates doubled for boys and tripled for girls in rural areas between 2021 and 2022

In 2021, we found that enrollment had recovered and dropout rates had not changed, but repetition rates had gone from 6.6 percent in 2019-2020 to 12.1 percent in 2020-2021. Grade repetition not only directly impacts learning for future cohorts, it also reduces the efficiency of government expenditure on educationand greatly increases the probability that a child will drop out of school, prompting concern about the long-run effects of school closures on education.

These fears are confirmed by our findings from the second wave of surveys; enrollment has fallen from 92.5 percent in 2021 to 85 percent in 2022. Two-thirds of students who repeated a year in 2020-2021 dropped out of school in the next academic year. Contrary to expectations, we do not find any significant differences in enrollment by wealth status of households, but the urban-rural divide is widening. In rural areas, the drop-out rate among school-age boys doubled between 2021 and 2022 (from 11.3 percent to 20.6 percent) and that almost tripled among girls (from 5.6 percent to 15.5 percent), unlike in urban areas, where drop-out rates for both sexes have remained at similar levels.

Although we find that the dropout rate is higher among boys (18 percent) than girls (13 percent), recent studies find that cultural norms and financial barriers especially limit girls’ access to schools in Senegal. Our data suggests that dropouts are driven by academic failure (18 percent), financial constraints (16 percent), and lack of interest (16.5 percent). School failure (18 percent) and disengagement (21 percent) are much more prevalent among boys than among girls. Marriage/pregnancy and financial constraints were both cited by 17 percent of the girls who did not return to school in our sample (see Figure 1).

In Senegal nearly a third of women are married before the age of 18 (compared to 1 percent boys), and more than two-thirds of school dropouts due to pregnancy for girls occur in middle school. In our survey we found that child marriage increased slightly from 16 percent to 19 percent between 2021 and 2022, but continues to disproportionately affect girls (29 percent) compared to boys (5 percent). Although early marriage rates in Senegal have reduced steadily over time, differences in prevalence based on region and wealth status are vast, driving some of these figures.

Figure 1: Reasons for dropping out of school for boys and girls

Household expenditure on schooling is rising, and parents are more involved in their children’s education than before the pandemic

Another result highlighted in our first round was the increased use of private education and after-school care among the most affluent families. In our second round of surveys we find that this phenomenon is now more widespread: private tutoring rates have increased significantly, from 8 percent in 2021 to just over 30 percent in 2022, across income groups (See Figure 2). Families are making efforts to support students with schooling, even if they can’t afford to pay for private tutoring. In our survey, we find that in these cases, family members help the students (siblings, cousins, etc).

Figure 2: Increase in rates of private tutoring by income group, between phase 1 (2021) and phase 2 (2022) surveys

Urban parents are choosing private schools, but public school teachers were more motivated during the pandemic according to our “teacher motivation index”

The "migration" of students between public and private schools is a recurring phenomenon in Senegal. Given the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, we expected to see a large proportion of students moving from costlier private education to universal free public education. Overall, we find that the majority (91 percent) of students have not changed school type between 2020-21 and 2021-22, but curiously a higher proportion of students (4.8 percent) left public school for private school compared to those (3.5 percent of students) moving the other way. Households in the middle of the income distribution were more likely than others to move their kids from public to private schools. In urban areas, a similar share of students migrated between school types (around 8 percent), whereas in rural areas only 1 percent of students moved from private to public schools.

Perceptions of higher teaching quality at private schools might lead to this preference for private schools in the post-pandemic era; over 70 percent of parents in our study expressed concerns about learning loss among children as a result of pandemic-related school closures. Our data additionally suggest that parents preferred private schools due to their discomfort with government handling of the pandemic and restrictions enforced in public schools. This is reinforced by our findings that private schools continued to maintain higher restrictions for pupils and especially teachers than public schools in 2022, despite a general relaxing of restrictions in the country. Private schools in Senegal were extremely popular before the pandemic and continue to be reliable alternatives to public schooling. However, the pandemic severely constrained school finances, particularly for more newly established and small private schools. Private schools may feel the need to demonstrate that they are a safe place for students in order for parents to enroll their children and guarantee continued business for private operators.

We also gathered data to construct a “teacher motivation index,” asking teachers to grade on a scale of 1 to 10 how well their school handled the pandemic, as well as teacher salary and benefits (like training opportunities, promotions, etc). Teachers are important actors in the success of educational projects and programmes, and crucial drivers of school quality. Their compliance and motivation, especially during a crisis, guarantees effective implementation of policies for student safety as well as learning loss mitigation and recovery.

Regional differences prevail (see Figure 3), as has been the case in Senegal historically. Teachers from Kédougou region were the most motivated, rating their schools with an average score of 84.1 (out of 100), while Ziguinchor (44.5) and Dakar (42.7) have the lowest average values, where teachers were most dissatisfied with their working conditions during the pandemic.

Figure 3: Primary teacher motivation index (mean score out of 100) across regions in Senegal

Pre-primary teachers reported higher motivation than those teaching primary levels. We also observe that public school teachers were more motivated than private school teachers, a finding that persisted between both waves of our survey. Teachers’ rankings of individual components of our teacher motivation index reveal that the only component in which private school teachers are more satisfied is related to the quality of school buildings. On average, a difference of about 12 points (out of 100) is noted between teachers in public (52.2 mean score) and private schools (40.1 mean score). 

Figure 4: Private and public school teachers’ levels of satisfaction during the pandemic, across components of our teacher motivation index

Government support to teachers, especially those in private schools, has increased markedly in the aftermath of the pandemic, and was observed between the two rounds of survey. In particular, there has been a pay rise for civil service workers engaged in primary and secondary education. By contrast, the decree for private sector wage increases was only announced recently and will not take effect until next year.

Discontent among private school teachers with salaries and payments is reflected clearly in our survey data (see Figure 4). Teachers in public schools report having received better salaries, more regularly than private school counterparts. Private schools also provided poorer working conditions, and lower quality arrangements during the pandemic.

To enable equal access to education in future crises, rural students and girls will need support

We are also able to provide a glimpse of the dynamic nature of reactions from parents, teachers, and the education system over the course of an emergency. Parents continue to recognise the impact of the pandemic on their children’s learning levels and are attempting to support them through private tuition. Continued restrictions at schools were more attractive to parents seeking to enroll their children in a safe environment. Teachers were highly motivated in the early stages of the pandemic, but lack of adequate support through salaries and incentives reduced their satisfaction, and could directly impact school quality. Targeted regional interventions could be an efficient way to improve overall education delivery in the country.

With thanks to Maimouna Konate for research assistance


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.